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January 2011



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Try Chocolate for an Emotional Release

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on November 12, 2009

New research suggests a palatable method to relieve stress involves regular consumption of dark chocolate. As an additional bonus, the chocolate may also improve cardiovascular health and supply benefits associated with antioxidants.

In a clinical trial, investigators found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed.

Everyone’s favorite treat also partially corrected other stress-related biochemical imbalances.

Sunil Kochhar and colleagues note growing scientific evidence that antioxidants and other beneficial substances in dark chocolate may reduce risk factors for heart disease and other physical conditions.

Studies also suggest that chocolate may ease emotional stress. Until now, however, there was little evidence from research in humans on exactly how chocolate might have those stress-busting effects.

Read in Full:  http://psychcentral.com/news/2009/11/12/try-chocolate-for-an-emotional-release/9525.html

Banishing monsters from under the bed

Sarah Hutcheon
Society for Research in Child Development


Many parents of preschoolers struggle with their children’s fears of real and imaginary creatures. A new study by researchers at the University of California, Davis offers some ideas on how they can better manage their children’s worries.

Researchers studied about 50 4-, 5-, and 7-year-olds in an effort to identify coping strategies that can be carried out by children. The children listened to a series of short illustrated stories. Each story featured a child alone or with another person who came into contact with something that looked like a real or an imaginary frightening creature, such as a snake or a ghost. Children were asked to predict how intensely afraid each of the children in the stories were, to give a reason why each child felt that way, and to offer a way to help the child in the story feel less afraid.

In situations in which a child’s fear was caused by real creatures, the researchers found, children would rather do something than think positive thoughts. In these situations, boys more often suggested fighting, while girls more often wanted to avoid the creature.

They also found that between ages 4 and 7, children show more understanding that people’s thoughts and beliefs can both cause and reduce fear. While preschoolers tended to suggest pretending the imaginary creature was friendly, older children tended to suggest reminding themselves what the reality was. Therefore, the researchers say, preschoolers may benefit from seeing things in a more positive light (“Let’s pretend the dragon is nice“), while older children may do better when they focus on what’s real and what’s not (“Dragons aren’t real“).

These results should help parents by reminding them to keep in mind their children’s age-appropriate abilities when helping them deal with their fears, particularly fears of imaginary creatures,” according to the researchers.

Sayfan L, Lagattuta KH. Scaring the Monster Away: What Children Know About Managing Fears of Real and Imaginary Creatures Child Dev. 2009 Nov/Dec;80(6):1756-1774   [Abstract]


Parents often underestimate impact of stress on their kids


Psychologists say Americans’ stress levels too high with few receiving support to make lasting lifestyle changes

Angel Brownawell, APA
Juanita Panlener, Vanguard Communications

Stress related to school pressure and family finances has a greater impact on young people than parents believe, according to a new national survey released today by the American Psychological Association (APA). Building on past research indicating that stress is a top health concern for U.S. teens between 9th and 12th grade[1], psychologists say that if they don’t learn healthy ways to manage that stress now, it could have serious long-term health implications.

Teens and tweens were more likely than parents to say that their stress had increased in the last year. Nearly half (45%) of teens ages 13-17 said that they worried more this year, but only 28 percent of parents think their teen’s stress increased, and while a quarter (26%) of tweens ages 8-12 said they worried more this year, only 17 percent of parents believed their tween’s stress had increased. Similarly, only 2-5 percent of parents rate their child’s stress as extreme (an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) when 14 percent of tweens and 28 percent of teens say they worry a lot or a great deal.

It’s clear that parents do not fully appreciate the impact that stress is having on their kids,” says psychologist Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice. “What we’re seeing with stress is in line with existing research about parents’ perception of their kids’ engagement in risky behaviors. Parents often under report drug use, depression and sexual activity in their children. Now it appears the same may be true for stress.

Parents’ responses about sources of stress for their children were out of sync with what children reported as sources of worry. Children were more likely to say they worried about their family’s financial difficulties than parents were to say this was a source of stress for their children (30% vs. 18% of parents). Results are similar for doing well in school (44% vs. 34% of parents). In general, children also were more likely to report having experienced physical symptoms often associated with stress than parents were to say their children experienced these symptoms, including headaches, difficulty sleeping, and changes in appetite.

  • *Tweens (30%) and teens (42%) say they get headaches vs. 13 percent of parents
  • *Tweens (39%) and teens (49%) cite difficulty sleeping vs. 13 percent of parents
  • *Tweens (27%) and teens (39%) report eating too much or too little vs. 8 percent of parents.



Stress in America survey results show that adults continue to report high levels of stress and many report that their stress has increased over the past year. Additionally, many adults are reporting physical symptoms of stress.

Seventy-five percent of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month (24 percent extreme, 51% moderate) and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the past year (42%). Nearly half (43%) of adults say they eat too much or eat unhealthy foods as a result of stress. Thirty-seven percent report skipping a meal because they were under stress.

While 44 percent of adults report that they exercise or walk to relieve stress, many Americans also say they rely on more sedentary activities to manage stress (49% listen to music, 41% read, 36% watch TV or movies more than two hours per day, and 33% play video games.) While these activities may be helpful in alleviating stress, they do not provide the extra benefit of improving overall physical health or maintaining a more healthy weight that more active forms of stress management afford.

Overall, many adults say they have felt the physical effects of stress in the past month:


  • *47 percent of all adults report that they have lain awake at night;
  • *45 percent report irritability or anger;
  • *43 percent report fatigue;
  • *40 percent report lack of interest, motivation or energy;
  • *34 percent report headaches;
  • *34 percent report feeling depressed or sad;
  • *32 percent report feeling as though they could cry;
  • *and 27 percent report upset stomach or indegestion as a result of stress.



The prevalence with which Americans continue to report increasing and extreme stress levels is a real concern,” said Dr Nordal. “Also, people say that their levels of stress and lack of willpower are preventing them from making lifestyle and behavior changes that are necessary for improving and maintaining good health. It’s clear that people need tools and support to better manage extreme stress in order to prevent serious health consequences. Unfortunately, our current healthcare system does not do a very good job in this regard. And insurance companies often don’t cover preventive services or the kinds of services people need in order to better manage chronic illness.

Two-thirds (66%) of adults living in the U.S. have been told by a health care provider that they have one or more chronic conditions, most commonly high blood pressure or high cholesterol. The vast majority of adults indicated that their health care provider recommended lifestyle and behavior changes (70%).

Few adults reported that their health care provider offered support to help them make lasting changes: only 46 percent were given an explanation for the recommendation; only 35 percent were offered advice or shown techniques to help make changes; and only 5-10 percent were referred to another health care provider to support the adoption of lifestyle changes. Further, only 48 percent of adults reported that their health care providers followed up with them to check on their progress in making lifestyle and behavior changes – such as quitting smoking, getting more sleep, reducing stress, exercising, losing weight and choosing healthier foods.

In general, people cited a number of barriers in their efforts to make lasting lifestyle and behavior changes – lack of willpower (33%); not enough time (20%); and lack of confidence (14%). More than one in ten people cited stress as the barrier preventing them from making lifestyle and behavior changes (14% of adults reported they are too stressed to make these changes).

Stress in America is part of APA’s Mind/Body Health public education campaign. For additional information on stress and lifestyle and behavior, visit www.apahelpcenter.org, read the campaign blog www.yourmindyourbody.org, and follow @apahelpcenter on Twitter.


  • 1. America’s Promise Alliance for Youth. Voices Study: Research Findings. Alexandria, VA: American’s Promise, 2005




Freedom from Fear

Neurogenesis may decay short-term fear memories

Cathleen Genova


Short-term memory may depend in a surprising way on the ability of newly formed neurons to erase older connections. That’s the conclusion of a report in the November 13th issue of the journal Cell, which provides some of the first evidence in mice and rats that new neurons sprouted in the hippocampus cause the decay of short-term fear memories (fear extinction) in that brain region, without an overall memory loss.

The researchers led by Kaoru Inokuchi of The University of Toyama in Japan say the discovery shows a more important role than many would have anticipated for the erasure of memories. They propose that the birth of new neurons (neurogenesis) promotes the gradual loss of memory traces from the hippocampus as those memories are transferred elsewhere in the brain for permanent storage. Although they examined this process only in the context of fear memory, Inokuchi says he “thinks all memories that are initially stored in the hippocampus are influenced by this process.

In effect, the new results suggest that failure of neurogenesis will lead to problems because the brain’s short-term memory is literally full. In Inokuchi’s words, we may perhaps experience difficulties in acquiring new information because the storage capacity of the hippocampus is “occupied by un-erased old memories.

Of course, Inokuchi added, “our finding does not necessary deny the important role of neurogenesis in memory acquisition.” Hippocampal neurogenesis could have a dual role, he says, in both erasing old memories and acquiring new ones.

Earlier studies had shown a crucial role for the hippocampus in memorizing new facts. Studies in people with impaired and normal memories and in animals also showed that information recall initially depends on the hippocampus. That dependence progressively decays over time as memories are transferred to other regions, such as the neocortex. Scientists have also observed a similar decay in the strength of connections between neurons of the hippocampus, a phenomenon known as long-term potentiation (LTP) that is considered the cellular basis for learning and memory.

Scientists also knew that new neurons continue to form in the hippocampuses of adults, even into old age. But it wasn’t really clear what those newborn brain cells actually do. Inokuchi’s team suspected that the integration of new neurons was required to maintain neural connections, but they realized it might also go the other way. The incorporation of new neurons into pre-existing neural circuits might also disturb the structure of pre-existing information, and indeed that is what their new findings now show.

The researchers found that irradiation of rat’s brains, which drastically reduces the formation of new neurons, maintains the strength of neural connections in the hippocampus. Likewise, studies of mice in which hippocampal neurogenesis was suppressed by either physical or genetic means showed a prolonged dependence of fear memories on that brain region.

On the other hand, voluntary exercise, which causes a rise in the birth of new neurons, sped up the decay rate of hippocampus-dependency of memory, without any memory loss.

Enhanced neurogenesis caused by exercise may accelerate memory decay from the hippocampus and at the same time it may facilitate memory transfer to neocortex,” Inokuchi said. “Hippocampal capacity of memory storage is limited, but in this way exercise could increase the [brain’s overall] capacity.

The study sets the stage for further examination of the connections between neurogenesis and learning capacity, the researchers say. They also plan to examine how the gradual decay of memory dependence on the hippocampus relates to the transformation of memory over time from a detailed and contextually-rich form to a more generic one.

Kitamura T, Saitoh Y, Takashima N, et al. Adult Neurogenesis Modulates the Hippocampus-Dependent Period of Associative Fear Memory. Cell 2009 Nov 13;139(4):814-827   [Summary]


Mice with deleted gene less anxious, depressed

Graeme Baldwin – BioMed Central


Removing the PKCI/HINT1 gene from mice has an antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effect. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Neuroscience applied a battery of behavioral tests to the PKCI/HINT1 knockout animals, concluding that the deleted gene may have an important role in mood regulation.

Elisabeth Barbier and Jia Bei Wang, from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Maryland, USA, carried out the experiments to investigate the role of the gene in regulating mood function. Wang, the corresponding author of the paper, said, “The knockout mice displayed behaviors indicative of changes in mood function, such as increased perseverance and reduced anxiety in open spaces.

The causes of mood dysfunction, as seen in depressive and bipolar disorders, are still not fully understood. They are believed to be multifactorial, involving heredity, changes in neurotransmitter levels, altered neuro-endocrine function, and psychosocial factors.

Speaking about these results, Wang said, “Although we don’t yet know why the deletion of the gene altered the mood status of the mice, what we have learned about the importance of this gene in mood function and its involvement in human mental disorders is interesting. The protein encoded by this gene could be a potential drug target for development of diagnostic or therapeutic agents that one day might be used for depression, bipolar or schizophrenia disorders. In addition, the knockout mice might be useful as a model to study mania, as there is no other animal model available yet.”

Barbier E, JWang JB. Antidepressant and anxiolytic like behaviors in PKCI/HINT1 knockout mice associated with elevated plasma corticosterone level. BMC Neuroscience 2009;10:132   [Abstract | Full text (PDF)]


Seattle Residents Continue To Report High Levels Of Stress

Article Date: 10 Nov 2009 – 2:00 PST

Work is causing stress for more Seattleites this year according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America survey, while the number reporting money or the economy as significant stressors has dropped since last year. More than 50 percent of city residents remain stressed by one or more of these three sources, a cause of concern for psychologists who worry about the effects of long-term stress and how it can contribute to chronic health disorders.

The survey released today reported that the number of Seattle residents who cited work as a significant cause of stress grew from 74 percent in 2008 to 82 percent in 2009. And about two in five employed Seattleites (42 percent) said they typically feel tense or stressed out during the work day, compared to 36 percent last year. Additionally, one-quarter of Seattle residents rated their average stress levels as an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale. But the number of Seattleites reporting that their stress had decreased in the past year has gone up from 12 percent in 2008 to 20 percent this year.

These high and long-lasting levels of stress can contribute to serious physical health problems. Diabetes, heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure are just a few of the diseases linked to chronic stress. In the APA survey, 70 percent of Seattle residents said they have been told by a health provider that they have a chronic condition (vs. 66 percent nationally). More than the rest of the nation, they reported that they are overweight or obese (31 percent in Seattle vs. 25 percent nationally), depressed (29 percent vs. 17 percent nationally) and have anxiety disorders (15 percent vs. 8 percent nationally).

Read in Full:  http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/170355.php

Survey Says: Fewer Americans Using Mental Health Professionals To Manage Stress

Article Date: 10 Nov 2009 – 2:00 PST

Results of a recent survey reveal that, despite an increase in stress, fewer Americans use therapy as a way to manage it.

The results of the annual “Stress in America” survey by the American Psychological Association, released last week, found that while 85 percent of Americans say their stress level has remained the same or increased in the past year, just 4 percent of people use therapy as a way to combat that stress. This reflects a decrease in therapy usage related to stress. In 2008, 7 percent of people said they saw a mental health professional to manage their stress.

In fact, Americans are more likely to eat (28%), smoke (14%), shop (15%) or watch TV (36%) than see a therapist as a stress management technique.

“We need to make Americans aware that seeing a mental health professional such as a Marriage and Family Therapist is a wise, effective way to manage stress that’s getting in the way of daily life,” said Patsy Pinkney-Phillips, Ph.D., president of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Board and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. “If you’re experiencing high levels of stress, talk therapy can help you get through it.”

Read in Full:  http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/170353.php

Anxious personalities linked to poor oral health

Jo Galer – University of Otago


People with anxious personalities are more likely to have poor oral health, including decayed or missing teeth, a University of Otago, New Zealand study has found.

A recent study, published in Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, looked at the anxiety levels of 1037 participants aged 15 to 32 in the long-running Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study and identified about one quarter of the group who were dentally anxious.

Split into three groups, they had always been dentally anxious (stable anxious); or had developed dental anxiety later as adolescents (adolescent-onset anxious), or as adults (adult- onset anxious).

Those in the stable anxious group had more tooth decay at age five and early experience of dentists; the adult-onset group was more likely to have lost teeth between the ages of 26 and 32, while the adolescent-onset anxious group had experienced more tooth decay from the age of 15.

Those with dental anxiety were more than just people who visit the dentist with a feeling of trepidation as the dentist looms over them with drill in hand; they were so frightened at the prospect of visiting a dentist or having dental procedures that they would avoid the dentist altogether – until the problem became so serious that treatment could no longer be avoided.

Researchers, led by Professor Murray Thomson, of the University’s Department of Oral Sciences, probed deeper into the characteristics of these anxious groups and found that they tended to be “the glass-half-empty” personality type – people who, as a rule, would be anxious about other things, such as heights. Some in this group were also anxious due to bad dental experiences in the past.

Usually, these people become more and more anxious through a vicious cycle of avoiding the dentist to the point where their dental condition becomes much worse,” he says.

They then require more unpleasant treatment options such as lancing an abscess, root canal treatment or a tooth extraction; and this reinforces their dental anxiety and makes it even less likely that they will attend the dentist next time they have a problem.

As a consequence, people who are dentally anxious end up with more tooth decay and more missing teeth than those who are not.

This was reflected in tooth decay statistics which showed that non-anxious people would have about 13 decayed, missing or filled tooth surfaces by the age of 32, whereas the stable anxious group would have almost double that – 22 surfaces affected by tooth decay – by 32.

In the study, three non-anxious groups were also identified, comprising three-quarters of the people studied; the three non-anxious groups were named stable non-anxious low; stable non-anxious medium and the recovery group.

The anxious groups tend to be more nervous than others, while the non-anxious groups tend to have more robust personalities, and are more able to cope with what life throws at them – these are the majority,” Professor Thomson says.

The biggest surprise was the appearance during the study of a ‘recovery’ group, which had been dentally anxious at age 15, but had ceased to be so by the age of 32.

We only had 13 respondents in this group, which is too small to study, but we would like to do more work in this area to find out what makes people cease to be anxious,” he says.

Professor Thomson says the study has implications for the dentistry profession and for the public.

This gives the dental profession a good understanding of what makes people dentally anxious, and to be mindful that some people can grow out of it,” he says.

For the public, it’s useful to know that, if you take the path of least resistance and avoid dental care, then in the end you will be worse off, not only dentally but also in terms of appearance, social interactions and your quality of life.

This reinforces previous findings from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study which show that poor oral health can lead to compromised quality of life and other health-related problems.

Thomson WM, Broadbent JM, Locker D, Poulton R. Trajectories of dental anxiety in a birth cohort. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2009;37(3):209-19 [Abstract]


Why Do We Have Emotions?

by Ilana Simons, Ph.D.

Mental illness often results from excess emotion.

Mental illness often results from excess emotion. The overflow of emotion doesn’t just drive mood disorders like Major Depression but fuels most psychological problems: phobias, anxiety, trauma, hoarding, obsessiveness, borderline personality disorder, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Why (oh why) were we made to feel so much? It’s as if our wiring (which, when given the options of emotion and reason, gravitates to the former), were out to screw us.

The popular answer is the evolutionary one–that emotions have helped us survive. When we lived in the wild–with monkeys and mastodons and tigers–we needed emotions in order to react quickly to dangerous stimuli. If faced with a tiger, it’s better to be rocked with a fear so strong it triggers a rush of blood than to sit around and theorize about the threat. We developed an emotional system because it could induce quick responses to danger (for theorists on emotion and evolution, see Antonio Damasio, Joseph LeDoux, and Robert Trivers).

But the claim that emotions keep things alive is too simple. After all, you can name a lot of efficient, enduring response systems that don’t include emotion. Rivers are one–they skirt serious barriers and survive through history. Or consider an ivy plant. It has a very good sensory system and no love, fear, or drama to weigh it down. It winds itself up from the ground, over rocks, through the locks of gates, finding places to cling. It can endure weather changes, feed itself, and grow new cells. That’s a solid response system not driven by emotion. So, again, why were we built to carry the burden of so much sentiment?

An evolutionary answer with a bit more detail is that we’re animals: more aggressive and self-conscious than rivers and plants are. Aggression and the desire to survive that comes with selfhood helped scoot animals up the food chain. If you want to create a system that works hard to survive, make it consciousness and emotional. It will want to keep itself around.

Read in Full:  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-literary-mind/200911/why-do-we-have-emotions

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